Monday, April 28, 2014

Getting out of debt step 3: cut the lifestyle creep

Have you ever experienced lifestyle creep? I sure have. I was once a grad student living in this tiny room you see here on a $1000/month. The room was $545 a month so I lived on $455 for the whole month, including food, textbooks, clothes, and anything else I needed or wanted.

Yes, that's the Duchess of Cornwall. She toured my dorm when she visited Philadelphia while I was in grad school, and my hallmates and I even got to have tea with her! But back to lifestyle creep. It's not just having tea with royalty that inflated my ego and my desire to spend. My first job took me to one of the top ten most expensive zip codes in the U.S. and I immediately felt like I had to live up to it.

Fancy clothes. A fancy address. Fancy hair. Fancy makeup. One woman actually walked around the office asking how many of us got our eyebrows professionally done. The fancy kitchen to keep up with a now former friend who constantly has the newest, fanciest stuff (and also still has an eating disorder that she has no intention of doing anything about.) Fancy music lessons. And last but not least, a fancy housekeeper. There's only one person in my office who doesn't have one.

My lifestyle needs to take a few hints from the way it was during grad school. This means that the following "creepers" in our current budget will go:

1. Guitar lessons. I just told my guitar teacher I want to do lessons every-other week instead of every week. Monthly savings: $100

2. Eyebrow waxing. I'll be skipping this until I get back from Spain. Monthly savings: $60

3. Housekeeper. I need to learn to do my own cleaning. Monthly savings: $100.

4. Clothing. I regularly spend about $150/month. Thank you, eating disorder, for a body that constantly changes size. I can shop at the thrift shop instead of The Limited from now on. Monthly savings: $100

5. Extra charity. I sponsor a child but right now I have to take care of me. I can always sponsor one again later. Savings: $38/month

Total monthly savings: $398!!

So, friends, has lifestyle creep ever happened to you?


  1. Holy Moly! The actual Dutchess of Cornwall! My stepmother always teases me about putting the silverware in the wrong place when I set the table, and tells me that if I keep it up the queen will never invite me to dinner. Here's hoping she was at least a little bit down to earth!

    Anyhow, I LOVE the phrase "lifestyle creep!" I think I'm in a very lucky situation in that most of the people I worked with were old hippies, and being broke is sorta par for the course as a musician. So I haven't really been face to face with the situation where I felt the need to "keep up with the Joneses." I do have to admit, though, that the deeper I get into cycling, the more tempted I am to fall into the trap of thinking that I need the latest greatest cycling clothes or shoes or whatever in order to be happy.

    And this has nothing to do with anything, but I always feel a twinge of jealousy when people talk about waxing their eyebrows. Mine are sooo light-colored that they're practically translucent. Seriously, I always wonder if people think I was just born without them!

    BTW - every other week guitar lessons is a fantastic idea. My experience running the music school was that most students actually did better on an every other week schedule because it gave them more time to actually practice and absorb all of the material from the last lesson. Smart move from many different angles!

    1. Given that the Queen (allegedly) keeps her breakfast cereal in a Tupperware tub, I've always thought the Royal family are probably fairly 'normal', given the crazy life they have!

      I think that I have got better at avoiding 'lifestyle creep'- at the moment I work with therapists with hippy tendancies, so they are much less interested in acquiring stuff and keeping up with the Joneses than my previous colleagues.

      Zoe, your savings ideas sound great....and cleaning means added motivation to declutter and thus have less to clean around!

    2. LOL I never knew she did that! There must be a lot to learn from the hippie crowd. I've never had much opportunity to get to be part of that crowd.

      And yes, the cleaning should help me stay decluttered. At least I hope it will!

    3. @ EcoCatLady isn't it amazing that in spite of how ridiculous cycling gear looks, the clothes are still temptations? lol You've definitely got a point about twice monthly guitar lessons being easier. Every week is has been a little intense, I just feel bad about giving my teacher half the work (read: cutting his income).

  2. I love your plan!! It sounds like it will be very fruitful economically :)

    As for me, I get lifestyle creep all.the.freaking.time. It's hard when we too live in a higher cost of living city, and it seems like everyone is richer. However, it shows up less in terms of stuff and more in terms of experiences. Fancy/foodie restaurants, tons of activities/sports/lessons for kids, lots of gyms/workouts/health foods--it seems never ending. I often feel like my kids are behind because I don't have them in tons of activities, and I don't care enough about myself because I'm not into health food and exercise crazes. I'm actually considering NOT having the boys go to the "best" public schools because I don't want that pressure to be there/that big.

    1. I sure hope it will be! I've definitely started spending more money on experiences now that I'm not so into stuff anymore. At first I thought it would still benefit my budget but so much for that idea! And I think it's great that you may not be sending the boys to the best public schools. There's something to be said for 'good enough' and besides, it's good for kids to be around other kids with more varied socio-economic life experiences. That's and education in and of itself.

  3. I have friends that earn double my salary, and I'll admit that I was jealous for a while. I wanted to be able to have the things only more money can buy.

    But I restructured my thought process and now I spend more time with my wife and family, and just enjoy being alive.

    You should never feel guilty about what you have or have earned in life, unless you are wasting it.

    1. That's awesome that you've been able to stop keeping up with the joneses. I'm definitely still learning. But it sounds like it's had a very positive impact on your relationship with your wife and family. Thanks for the last piece of advice. I'll remember that.

  4. Oh yeah. Unfortunately my lifestyle creep was *during* grad school -- I didn't even wait til it ended! I just hit 30 or so and was like "OK, I want to both live on my own and live in a neighborhood that I like," and I definitely could not afford to do both of those things. Hence the loans, sigh. Should've stuck with roommates for another few years.

    1. hey there, thanks for visiting my blog!

      I know the feeling about making choices because something is more "grown up"! I've definitely made a lot of poor financial choices because I wanted to feel more independent. But I think getting out of debt quickly is one of the most grownup things you could do, and I saw your payoff calendar. You've done an awesome job! Thanks again for stopping by.


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